eSites Network Website Design


E- Commerce For Existing Websites

Can You Add E-Commerce to your Existing Website to Push Sales?

Does your existing website have the features it needs to take you into the exciting world of e–commerce?

  • An online product catalogue
  • A customer contact form
  • A method to order goods or services
  • The terms and conditions of the online transaction
  • Security Features
  • A feedback mechanism
  • A payment gateway
  • Customer Relationship Management Software
  • SMS Integration
  • Search Engine Optimization
E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods and services on the Internet. This term and the term e-business are often used interchangeably, and for online retail selling, the term e-tailing is sometimes used.

E-tailing or The Virtual Storefront:

Putting your products out on the net to allow direct retail shopping has many amazing advantages. 24-hour availability, a global reach, the ability to interact with customers, the chance to gather relevant information to allow customer profiling, making ordering a personal experience for every customer, and multimedia prospects – all make the Virtual Storefront a multibillion dollar source of revenue for the world’s businesses.

The Key to Success in E-commerce is Conversion:

Anyone who has worked in e-commerce for a while will tell you that the name of the game is not just generating traffic to your website; it is getting whatever traffic comes your way to convert into actual Sales. Online conversion can come in many forms. If you’re selling a product, online conversion happens when a visitor makes a purchase and becomes an active customer, and if you’re offering a service your conversion might be getting visitors to phone-in and make contact.

How Do I Increase Online Conversion Rates?

  1. Decide what your USP is and mention it on every page of your site: Many visitors coming to your site land directly on product pages, so make sure you stand out from the crowd by telling people what you’re proud of on every page. It could be your prices, your level of service, or anything of real value to the customer.
  2. Keep all lines of communication open: Veteran online retailers know that it is important to backup their online offers with a solid communication platform in the shape of telephone and email support. In today’s web reality this might not be enough. Integrating SMS into your website is a neat trick that allows for quick turnaround times.
  3. Make sure your customers feel secure: Integrate security features into your site with SSL certification and secure payment gateways so that every customer feels confident enough to take the last step that seals a purchase. Lay out detailed terms and conditions and explain methods of delivery and exchange or return.
  4. Keep your Product Catalogue updated: Make sure that all products are current and available, regularly update prices and special offers, and remember – if there’s a better deal out there, your customers will find it! Statistics show that 80% of customers will do their research before buying a product, so never make promises you can’t back up.
  5. Diversify your product offers and spread them across channels: Some customers like free offers, some go for discounts, and some want add-ons like free delivery. To become an appealing proposition, consider catering for as many customer groups as possible by diversifying your product offers. Also mirror them across channels – if for example you are offering free delivery for a day, be sure to mention the promotion on the site for visitors coming to you directly, in your paid ads for visitors coming via the search engines and in your newsletter for existing customers.
With just a few modifications to your existing website, you may be ready to enter the world of e-commerce. It promises to have the accessibility, geographical reach, cost effectiveness, and simplicity that will take your business to the next level.

Is My Website is Effective Enough?

Does it sometimes feel like you are shouting very loudly about your company and its products or services, but no one can actually hear? Is there a gap between laying out your vision clearly in your website, and actually getting visitors to stay long enough to read and understand what you’re trying to say?

You’re probably thinking this can’t be right – you’ve taken a lot of trouble to explain everything, and even a casual browser can’t fail to be curious or captivated. Think again.

There Is No Such Thing as a ‘Casual Browser’

Users today see the web as a repository for specific pieces of information. High bandwidth and always–on connections encourage "information snacking". This practice produces countless short online visits to get specific answers.

It’s the Age of Information Snacking!

The annual report into web habits by usability guru Jakob Nielson as early as 2008 showed that people are becoming much less patient. Instead of dawdling on websites many users want simply to reach a site quickly, complete a task and leave.

So how do you know when your current website is letting you and your company down? When you’re losing potential customers because of faults in design or lack of special features? It’s time to ask a few tough questions of your website to see if it is really effective.

Ten Tips on What Makes a Website Effective:

  1. Identify your target audience: What are their needs or points of interest? How can they be served? Is your current website targeting these people effectively? There are clear answers to all these questions and ways of analyzing patterns of use.

  2. Think about an overall theme for your website: Decide on the overall theme of the site based on the message and target audience. For example: humorous, professional, academic, family-based, or technical. Make the most of crucial first impressions. It's like the interior design of your place of business. It's what sets the first impression and mood for the visitor. It should be discrete and non-distracting but effective.

  3. Make sure the content is crisp: This is probably why most people come to your site – to read your content. Make sure the quality of content is uniformly high. It needs to be clear, up-to-date, and simple, and communicate what it needs to. Don't put in too much jargon and non-committal matter, be straight forward.

  4. Keep Search Engines in Mind: After all, the whole point is to direct people looking for a particular product or service to you first! Make sure your content is optimized for Search Engines so your visitors can find you easily. Be listed in as many business directories as possible.

  5. Build Trust and Credibility: A well-designed site that is free of careless errors is the first step to building trust. Adding customer testimonials, Press reviews, or news updates is important too. Avoid lies or half-truth's at all costs.

  6. Make Navigation Easy: Ease of navigation is as important as the content as that is how the visitor will find what he is looking for on your site. As a first generation site grows it often outgrows its navigation. A good redesign will help. The new design needs careful thought so that the visitor will not get lost or be more than two clicks away from what he/she needs.

  7. Keep It Fresh: Do your visitors feel they are visiting an active site? Sitting in a business’s waiting room with old newspapers, pealing paint and a 10 year old calendar might make you wonder about the competence of the business. In the same way, visiting a site that was last updated in 1996 is a sure way to lose visitor trust.

  8. Make Doing Business Easy: Are you making it easy for your customers to do business with you? Can they find what they need quickly? Can they respond easily? Product and Service information is essential, but complicated procedures put people off. Make use of the web technology to make your business as "self-service" as possible.

  9. Build In Interactions with your Customers: To keep your visitors returning it is important to think of how you can serve them rather than just what your company can get from them. Tools that allow you to exchange information, respond quickly, and answer questions add value for the customer. Even new informative content is a good way to make people re-visit.

  10. Hire the Right Team to do the Website Design: It is widely recognized today that a multitude of skills are required to create a good website. Gone are the days when a guy who could write HTML could sit down with your Product Brochure and turn out a website. Increasingly, tech-savvy customers expect your website to be at the cutting edge of design and technology, whatever the size of your business.
So that’s all it is, really – clarity of thought, detailed planning, and direct, honest communication are what make your website buzz, and drive customers to come back again and again. You wouldn’t settle for second best on your shop floor, corporate office or retail outlet – make sure you don’t do just that when it comes to your website!

Contrast and Meaning

If you’re a designer, you work to communicate and convey meaning. So it’s important that you understand the mechanisms by which things and ideas acquire meaning; more than any other factor, your grasp of these fundamentals determines your ability to communicate effectively. Without fundamentals, you will flounder when faced with complex design challenges or constraints. Today, as always, issues of style and popular convention occupy the attention of many, and may distract us from the essentials of our craft.


Design is largely an exercise in creating or suggesting contrasts, which are used to define hierarchy, manipulate certain widely understood relationships, and exploit context to enhance or redefine those relationships…all in an effort to convey meaning. Contrast is important because the meaningful essence of any thing is defined by its value, properties, or quality relative to something else. That’s right: nothing has much meaning by itself, which is one reason why design is important.

The function of contrast in defining meaning can be explained by comparing fundamental opposites: dark/light, soft/hard, fast/slow. Examples like these are useful because everyone understands the extremes they imply, but while there are extremes, there are no absolutes. The values are merely relative.

For instance, a cheetah is generally considered to be fast. But a cheetah is quite slow compared to a jet airplane. So saying “a cheetah is fast” is only meaningful when some relevant context is also communicated or assumed. Likewise, stating that “element X in the page layout is important” is only meaningful when the relative importance of that and all other elements has been established. In other words, every element on the page you’re designing has to be positioned, styled, sized, or otherwise distinguished in accordance with its specific importance and place in the overall communicative objective. If you neglect even one component, it may work to subvert your entire effort.

In addition to defining meaning and relationships, contrast is closely tied to human perception and survival instincts, as we’ll examine later, and this makes contrast a powerful and essential tool for designers. Simply put, contrast is at the root of almost everything you’ll accomplish with design.

There are several primary forms of contrast that designers typically use, including the following:

The primary forms of contrast include size, position, color, texture, shape, and orientation.

In a layout, contrast helps lead the reader’s eye into and through your layout. Each component of the page—graphic, textual, or interactive—has a job to do, and each of those jobs falls within a hierarchy that’s specific to the project at hand. Furthermore, each component is but a piece of the overall project message and objective. With creative uses of contrast, you can influence user choices and compel specific actions.

Page elements must not, of course, be designed or organized haphazardly. Content must be intelligently composed, and composition is defined by the information hierarchy—which is defined with, you guessed it: contrast.

For instance, let’s say that you’re designing a simple web page for which the main purposes are to 1) briefly describe what the company/service does, and 2) ask visitors to create an account and start using the service. Setting visual concerns aside, let’s look at the initial copy we’re presented with for each of these information components.


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It’s immediately apparent that there’s virtually no stylistic contrast between these two sections of copy. But in order for this page to work, there must be a great deal of difference between them! One is information copy and the other is supposed to be action copy. Let’s try and inspire some action by making the action section’s communication style contrast with that of the information copy.


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Now, let’s use some graphic contrast to further define the hierarchy of information and elements on the page.

Now, informational content and actionable content have been more appropriately defined and contrasted.

Now there is a clear hierarchy of importance among the page elements and a more compelling call-to-action area. Important information is contrasted by size, color, or decoration and actionable elements have a common color to communicate that they’re related in some way or have a common purpose. Now that we’ve increased the contrast between elements, page visitors don’t have to read everything to know what’s most important. With a quick scan, they can grasp which information is vital and how to “get started” once they’re convinced that they need this service.

Of course, this sort of contrast can only define the likely order of what readers will “see.” Getting them to actually read the content depends on other factors, such as how compelling the headline is and how engaging and interesting the story is—and in this realm, too, there is ample room for intelligent contrast.

In closing

The information and examples presented here barely scratch the surface of this subject. Contrast is everywhere and a part of everything we see, do, experience, and understand. Look for it in your own work and beyond. Get into the habit of finding contrast in everything you see, and of calculating the information hierarchy of things in your daily experience. In other words, look deeply. This sort of habit can pay healthy dividends in your design work.

Contrast is just one component of design fundamentals. Get cozy with all of them and apply them to your work first before you move on to the non-fundamentals. Your work will be better for it.

Why Do Search Engines Matter to Every Business?

I’m sure you know that Search Engines are sites like Google, AOL, MSN or Yahoo where searches for information on any topic are conducted by typing keywords or key phrases into the search box and then reviewing the results.

Since Search Engines are the primary interface between people using the Web and websites, anyone finding your web site through a search engine is a potential customer – because they have decided before finding your website that they need what you’re selling and are looking for you specifically.

Why Does Ranking Matter?

Research shows that very few searchers move beyond the first page or two of a search engine’s ‘organic’ or unpaid listings. They strongly believe that the search engine has ranked the results in order of importance and going beyond the first page of listings drastically reduces their chances of finding anything relevant. Therefore, having a top 30 listing is crucial to your business.

How Do I Improve My Ranking?

Search Engine Optimization or Positioning is by far the best, smartest and most affordable investment you can make. SEO is the process of improving a website for higher search engine rankings, and is a necessary component of online marketing strategy.

How are Web Pages Ranked?

Search engines compile their databases using “spiders” or “robots” (‘bots’) to crawl through the Internet from link to link, identifying and perusing pages. After spiders find pages, they pass them on to another computer program for “indexing.” This program identifies the text, links, and other content in the page and stores it in the search engine database’s files so that the database can be searched by keyword and whatever more advanced approaches are offered, and the page will be found if your search matches its content.

Are There Rules?

When indexing they follow a set of rules, known as an algorithm. Exactly how a particular search engine’s algorithm works is a closely-kept trade secret. However, all major search engines follow some general rules:
  1. One of the main rules in a ranking algorithm involves the location of keywords on a web page. Pages with the search terms appearing in the HTML title tag are often assumed to be more relevant than others to the topic.

  2. Frequency is the other major factor in how search engines determine relevancy. A search engine will analyse how often keywords appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more relevant than other web pages.

  3. Link analysis is another major factor. By analyzing how pages link to each other, a search engine can both determine what a page is about and whether that page is deemed to be “important” and thus deserving of a ranking boost.

Can I Do It Without SEO?

There is a pervasive myth among website operators that simply submitting the URL to every search engine or just inserting Meta tags into your Web pages will increase traffic to the website and thus, increase sales. Both are just not true! Meta tags and search engine submission are highly recommended – however, by themselves, these steps will not get you anywhere. Smart Search Engine-friendly copy is the foundation you need to climb up the rankings.

Can I Fool a Search Engine?

Not likely. Search engines may penalize pages or exclude them from the index if they detect search engine “spamming.” An example is when a word is repeated too many times on a page – to increase the keyword frequency for higher ranking.

Search engines have plenty of experience with webmasters who try many things on their web pages in an attempt to gain better rankings. Because of this, all major search engines now also make use of “off the page” ranking criteria. These are the factors that a webmaster cannot easily influence.

The Takeaway:

Establish and maintain your Search Engine rank position right away by applying legitimate optimization methodologies that work!

Make Your Website Actually Work for You

Site effectiveness is all about engaging and retaining the user long enough to communicate your message, and to motivate the user to take some action. This article helps you think about creating or renovating your site to do just that.

What Your Website Says About You

To most of your visitors, your site is your company. The visitors have little else on which to base a judgement about you, your products and/or your services. That being the case, the ‘true cost’ of a website includes not only the quoted price but also the perception of your credibility, your trustworthiness, your professionalism. The perception of these values can be destroyed in a moment as the first page downloads. Or if you are fortunate, the perception can be enhanced.
It comes down to this: while the first impression created by the designer brings the visitor into the site, it’s the overall user experience that keeps them coming back… and what good is a site that never gets repeat visits?

- Nick Finck, Digital Web Magazine, Sept 24, 2001

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Emotion plays a dominant role in the decisions people make. Therefore you need to identify the emotions that are key to your business or organization. These are your key/core values, and can be challenging to define, so think carefully about them.

The single biggest motivator in engaging the user is not data, nor is it facts; it’s emotional response. Users take action when they feel comfortable, when they feel they can trust you, when the process feels natural and reassuring, and when they come to believe that the action will make them feel good.

The "I Don’t Want to Think" Phenomenon

Users do not want to spend time thinking while viewing a web page. That’s not why they went to your site. What they want are answers/solutions in ‘news bite’ sizes.

Regardless of the quantity of information provided by a site, it’s imperative to allow the user to ‘drill down’ through the information categories to arrive at the specific, and/or related, information if the site is to be effective. You don’t want to drown your visitor in tons of information that may be irrelevant to his particular needs.

Why It Is Hard To Figure How Much Your Website Should Cost

According to conventional thinking, if you feel that the benefit you received was worth more than the price you paid, then it has a high Quality–Price Ratio (QPR). If you don’t, then the product or service has a low QPR. This is the way a lot of site owners gauge the value of their site.

Unfortunately, there is a fatal flaw in applying the QPR to your site. You, the owner, are not the site’s consumer. Your visitors are the consumers.

Your site is not an expense; it is an investment. Consequently, a more useful perspective than QPR is provided by Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in history. He is quoted as saying:

Price is what you pay. Value is what you receive

An up-to-date and effective website is one of the most important tools in your Marketing Strategy. Use it wisely not miserly.

Google Apps: Collaboration and Communication

In today’s business environment, collaboration and communication may hold the key to increased productivity and business growth. Google is said to have created a secure, reliable, cloud based computing environment with collaboration technology that can’t be matched by other systems today – let’s look at some of the facts.

Google Apps is a service from Google providing independently customisable versions of several Google products under a custom domain name.

It features several Web applications with similar functionality to traditional office suites – but it runs in a web browser, without requiring users to buy or install software. Users can simply log in to the service to access their files and the tools to manipulate them. The offerings include
  • communication tools (Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Calendar)
  • productivity tools (Google Docs: text files, spreadsheets, and presentations)
  • a customizable start page (iGoogle)
  • Google Sites (to develop web pages).

What’s good about Google Apps?

The notion of providing software as services rather than as products offers several key benefits:
  • One of the most attractive features is that Google apps requires no hardware or software, and needs minimal administration, creating tremendous time and cost savings for businesses.
  • Each user gets 25 GB for email storage, 50 times more than the industry average, so you can keep important messages and find them instantly with built-in Google search.
  • 99.9% uptime reliability guarantee with synchronous replication – your data and activity in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites is simultaneously preserved in multiple secure data centers
  • Because Google stores all of the files and content centrally, document management becomes far simpler than when distributing files to multiple people and keeping track of different versions.
  • Sharing content is as simple as granting someone access, which facilitates collaboration without having to transfer files or worry about software compatibility. It allows students and instructors to forget about the tools and focus on creative ways to use technology in their disciplines.
  • Google Sites provides a simple tool for groups to collaborate on developing web pages or whole websites. When a file is complete, it can be “published,” which gives it a unique URL, or it can be exported.

Is there a downside?

The greatest concern about Google Apps and similar services is security.
  • Because access rights are shared across the service, users rely to some extent on how carefully others protect their login credentials.
  • Given concerns about long-term availability, security, and privacy, storing files on non-institutional servers is a deal-breaker for some colleges and universities.
  • For users, the menus and tools may not be consistent from one application to another, and applications running over the web do not work as smoothly and predictably as those running locally.
  • Users who find themselves without an Internet connection cannot access the applications or their files.

The Standard and Premier Editions:

Google Apps is free only in the Standard Edition, while you would pay about $50 per user per year to use the Premier Edition. So what does this extra payment get you?

Well, the Premier Edition allows Unlimited User Accounts per organization (as opposed to a cap of 50 in the Standard Edition), and also gives you the use of Google Video and Google Groups. It also offers 25GB email storage per user (only 8GB in the Standard Edition), plus BlackBerry and Microsoft Outlook interoperability, better Business Controls, and 24/7 Support.
The bottom line is that any application is only as good as the way in which it is used – that’s where companies like eSites can customize Google Apps to meet your technical, branding and business requirements, while integrating Google Apps to your existing IT infrastructure.
We couldn’t resist the opportunity to put that in!

‘Moving Into the Cloud’: Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand.

Cloud computing represents a major change in how we store information and run applications. Instead of hosting apps and data on an individual desktop computer, everything is hosted in the “cloud”—an assemblage of computers and servers accessed via the Internet. Users can access applications via a browser, while the applications as well as the data are installed and stored on a server.

Clouds often appear as single points of access for all consumers’ computing needs. The major cloud service providers include Microsoft, Salesforce, HP, IBM, Amazon and Google.

End – User Advantages of Cloud Computing:

  • Lower computer costs: Since web-based applications run in the cloud, your desktop PC doesn’t need the processing power or hard disk space demanded by traditional desktop software.
  • Improved performance: Computers in a cloud computing system boot and run faster because they have fewer programs and processes loaded into memory.
  • Reduced software costs: Instead of purchasing expensive software applications, you can get most of what you need for free. This alone may be justification for switching to cloud applications.
  • Instant software updates: When you access a web-based application, you get the latest version automatically every time you log in to the cloud – without needing to pay for or download an upgrade.
  • Improved document format compatibility: You don’t have to worry about the documents you create on your machine being compatible with other users’ operating systems – all documents created by web-based applications can be read by any other user accessing that application.
  • Unlimited storage capacity: Cloud computing offers virtually limitless storage. Your computer’s current 200 gigabyte hard drive is peanuts compared to the hundreds of petabytes (a million gigabytes) available in the cloud. Whatever you need to store, you can.
  • Increased data reliability: Unlike desktop computing, in which a hard disk crash can destroy all your valuable data, a computer crashing in the cloud shouldn’t affect the storage of your data.
  • Universal document access: Ever get home from work and realize that you left an important document at the office? With cloud computing your documents stay in the cloud, and you can access them instantly wherever you have a computer and an Internet connection.
  • Latest version availability: When you edit a document at home, that edited version is what you see when you access the document at work.
  • Easier group collaboration: To many users, this is one of the most important features—multiple users can collaborate easily on documents and projects. Because the documents are hosted in the cloud, not on individual computers, all you need is a computer with an Internet connection, and you’re collaborating.
  • Device independence: Finally, here’s the ultimate advantage: You’re no longer tethered to a single computer or network. Change computers, and your existing applications and documents follow you through the cloud. Move to a portable device, and your apps and docs are still available – they stay the same no matter what computer or other device you’re using.

Key Operating Features:

  • Cost – is greatly reduced and capital expenditure is converted to operational expenditure, which lowers barriers to entry.
  • Multi-tenancy – enables sharing of resources and costs across a large pool of users thus allowing for:
    1. Centralization of infrastructure
    2. Peak-load capacity increases
    3. Utilization and efficiency improvements for systems
    • Reliability - is improved if multiple redundant sites are used, which makes well designed cloud computing suitable for business continuity and disaster recovery.
    • Agility – improves with users’ ability to rapidly and inexpensively re-provision technological infrastructure resources.
    • Scalability – via dynamic (“on-demand”) provisioning of resources on a self-service basis. One of the most important new methods for overcoming performance bottlenecks for a large class of applications is data parallel programming on a distributed data grid.
    • Security – is often as good as or better than under traditional systems, in part because providers are able to devote resources to solving security issues that many customers cannot afford.
    • Maintenance – cloud computing applications are easier to maintain, since they don’t have to be installed on each user’s computer. They are easier to support and to improve since changes reach the clients instantly.
    • Metering – cloud computing resources usage should be measurable and should be metered per client and application on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. This will enable clients to choose the vendor cloud on cost and reliability.

    So it’s pretty clear that cloud computing will be the way of the future. It frees you from the tyranny of desktop computing and opens up new forms of group collaboration, adding to mobility, flexibility and ease of use in an increasingly global workplace. Stay connected, folks!

    Some Rules of Thumb

    Let me share some design rules of thumb. These are ways to think about your pages, not ways to code them.

    The Web is NOT on paper

    People who are accustomed to design work on paper documents have a hard time making the transition to the web. The web is a fundamentally different medium, for better and for worse. A good designer will use a medium to its best advantage, and will minimize its weaknesses.

    You cannot control layout on the web; trying to do so will ensure that some readers will not be able to use your pages at all. HTML is a structuring language that lets you give hints about presentation, but the final presentation is a combination of your document plus the reader's browser, the reader's preferences, and the reader's window size for the browser. All of these latter items are out of your control.

    This doesn't mean that everything you know about layout is useless; you can still do things such as flowing text around an image and adding white space.

    The web is a hypertext environment. Paper documents can only begin to approach the possibilities, through such things as indexes, tables of contents, and cross-references. Web documents can bring these tools to life by providing live links that go immediately to the referenced topic. And hence, the web's non-lenieraity.

    At present, the web is accessed almost entirely through computer screens. This does have its drawbacks; screens have much lower resolution and sharpness than paper. They are also harder for many people to read for other reasons. Typographical controls should be approached with great restraint, especially when it comes to body text in your documents. If you override these choices, you may be degrading the reading conditions for the most important person in your life - the person who reads your pages.

    Another important use of the web is searching, and how you code your documents does affect their accessibility to search engines. META tags are important for providing the right information to search engines, but the search robots will read the rest of your document as well. Some things simply won't be available to the robots, such as text in images, hence alt text is important, and words which are split by mark-up embedded in the words (e.g., drop caps).

    You are a guest in your reader's environment

    When you visit the home of someone you've never met, do you immediately tell them to replace their carpet or rearrange their furniture? Do you carry a portable stereo into their homes and turn it up with your favorite music?

    Each of the following is just as rude:
    • telling the reader to get a new browser
    • expecting the reader to resize their page to fit your design
    • playing background sounds that the user can't control
    • setting type size or font in ways that the reader cannot override
    It isn't simply that you don't know what your reader's environment might be, but you don't and can't know what things might be important to them, or why. Anything you do which forces conditions on your reader might violate some basic need that determines how they configure their system. Telling a reader to reconfigure their system just to accommodate your page is rude; if it does so in a way to breaks their work routine, they will probably leave your page immediately.

    And you'll never know.

    Make no assumptions about your user's browser

    I've already said that you shouldn't try to dictate what browser the reader uses. Since you really have no control over this anyway, you might as well start with the assumption that your reader may use anything under the sun.

    Always use alt="..." attributes for your images, and provide text alternatives for image maps. There are many reasons why a reader might not be loading your images.
    If you use frames, make sure that your site works just as well without them.
    If you use proprietary tags, don't depend on them to get your message across. The same goes for Java and for features that require plug-ins like flash; think of those as enhancements rather than requirements.

    Designing for any possible browser isn't that hard. You start with a subset of HTML that is universally recognized. Restrict yourself to this set of tags when you add your content and design your navigation. Then add the rest as enhancements, making sure that your pages are readable and transmit their content on browsers that don't support those special features. Also, it's a good idea to keep an outdated version of a second-rate browser, and to use it periodically to check out your own pages - before you put those pages out on the web where other people might view them with the same outdated, second-rate browser.

    Keep your toys to yourself

    There is a tendency at many sites to clutter up the home page with stuff that is of no interest to readers. Counters. Awards. Things the author cares about, but no one else.

    The key point here is focus. Your web site has a purpose. Each page has a purpose. Everything should contribute to that.

    This is not to say that you can't have fun with things. Take awards, for instance, they should all be stashed away on an awards page; those who are interested can look, and those who don't care don't have to deal with it. Awards really don't belong on your home page.

    Counters are another sticking point. No one cares how many other people have been to your web site. If you need them, get your access counts from your server's logs.

    And then there are the people who collect animated gifs and flash. These are incredibly distracting. They are confections. As Bruce Sterling once said, no one ever cried over the beauty of a cupcake. If needed make them subtle, and hidden away in the place where they are most appropriate.

    Your reader is not an idiot

    If a person has been using a web browser long enough to find your page, they probably understand what a link is, and how to activate it. It is not necessary to tell your reader to "click here."

    Don't try to be cool

    Being cool generally means that your web site isn't so cool. "Cool" generally means distractions, self-promotion, and such. A lot of it is counter-productive.

    The human visual system tracks to motion. This is why blink is so evil, and why animated gifs are distracting. At first, these things sound great: "I want this to be noticed!" The question is whether you want your reader to see anything else on your page. Every blink, every movement, is going to draw attention away from everything else. And if you use these to draw attention to something adjacent to them, such as text, their mere presence will be extremely annoying when the reader is trying to read what you want them to read.

    Background graphics is another way for coolness to interfere with your website. Most backgrounds, even lightly textured ones, reduce legibility of plain text. Different browsers - even different versions of the same browser - differ considerably in the amount of contrast displayed in a background, so what looks OK to you might not be legible to someone else. Solid colors that contrast strongly with text colors are really the only way to ensure legibility.

    It should go without saying that high-contrast or extremely busy backgrounds are really very un-cool. It should go without saying, but there are some really hideous backgrounds on the web that totally destroy their pages.

    Understatement works surprisingly well on the web. Remember that when your page comes up, your reader will be completely focused on it. So know what it is that you want to say, then say it and be done with it. If you've done your job well, you'll get your point across. If you haven't, no amount of cool is going to compensate.

    Leave the reader in control

    There are a lot of things that go into this, more than some of the really awful sins. One peeve of mine is the auto-refresh. Please, let me decide when I want to go to the next page.

    A more subtle interpretation of this is to make your page usable as quickly as possible, even before it is completely loaded. Don't force your reader to wait for netlag.

    Use height=nn and width=nn attributes on all of your images. Most browsers will format the page immediately and load the image later, so at least the text of your page is usable.
    Break long pages into several pages, unless the page really focuses on a single issue. Long pages are most likely to be appropriate on detail pages, and least likely to be appreciated on your home page.
    Use the top of each page to give the reader enough information to decide whether they want to stay on that page.
    There are other ways of taking control away from the user. Frames are bad about this, because they take up valuable screen space, and most framed sites don't give you a way to make the frames go away.

    Keep your hands off the status line! Status-line crawlers are a popular toy, but they take away link information that the user may consider more important than your crawler. Not to mention that crawlers, either in the status line or elsewhere, are nearly as evil and distracting as blinking text. Some people also use JavaScript to put link descriptions in the status line when the mouse is over a link. If you have a link description that's that good, use it for the link text. Again, you're taking the URL away from the reader at exactly the moment that they're likely to be looking at the status line to see where a link is going to take them.

    Background sound is another bad idea; most sounds are fairly large, and a reader should be able to choose whether they want to spend the time waiting for a large download. The same is true of large graphics; give readers a thumbnail to select, and let them know before they select that they're going to be downloading something huge.

    Provide redundant navigation

    People learn in different ways. People behave in different ways. People's perceptions respond to different cues. So be good to everyone, and provide navigation that works in multiple ways.

    This is one of the arguments for using both image maps and text. Some people are going to use the text links, even if they are loading graphics and the image map is right there on their screen.

    There are other ways to provide useful redundancy, including horizontal linkage between pages at the same level in the same area , vertical linking especially upward to all levels, including pages in more than one subject area when appropriate, putting cross-links in context within articles where it is appropriate, and for large sites, a site map page whose only purpose is to link to every page in the site in some organized manner. For site maps, it helps if every page links back to the site map as well. For the primary navigational links which provide structure to your site, be as consistent as possible about the placement of these links.

    The "three-click rule" is important in navigation. It should be possible to get from any page in your site to any other page in your site with no more than three links. It's even better if there are multiple three-links-or-less paths, because different readers will try different paths between the same pair of pages.

    Listen to hear yourself say, "Yes, but..."

    If you find yourself defending the design of your pages, especially to the people who read them, be open to the possibility that your pages really do have a design problem.

    Remember that most people aren't going to tell you about errors or problems. If your content is worth staying for and the problems aren't too obnoxious, they may stay and read. Otherwise, they're likely to hit the back button and never come to your pages again. You'll never know how often that happens, so listen carefully when you do get feedback.

    Better yet, seek out feedback from others. They'll be happy to tell you everything that you're doing wrong. You don't have to agree with them, but do listen carefully to their explanations of why they think some particular feature is a problem.

    Make your pages error-free

    Make sure your graphics load. Make sure that your links work. Where you link pages at other sites, review your links regularly to catch sites that have moved.

    Validate your pages. Errors in your HTML can cause strange behavior, including information that doesn't display.

    Look at your pages. It's truly amazing to see a page that doesn't even load correctly; it says that someone didn't care enough to look even once before putting that page on the web. While you're looking, make sure that the page displays the way you intended for it to display. Do this in several browsers; not all browsers implement the same tags, or implement them the same way. Browsers also tend not to follow HTML syntax faithfully; validation is no guarantee that any particular browser will render your page in a readable, useful manner.

    Bet your ego on your readers' assessment

    We all want to have the best-looking, most effective pages on the web.

    Unfortunately, our own opinions of our work are highly unreliable. The only opinions that matter are the opinions of your readers. Base your ego on that.

    A Harsh Mistress

    What is it that matters to you?

    If you can't answer this question, go away. You don't have any business designing or having a website.

    Oh, you think you have an answer? Then it's time for my next question:

    Why should I care?

    Yes, this is me talking, that hypothetical person who might someday stumble across your website. Except for one thing: I'm not hypothetical. Not only am I real, I'm impatient, I'm jaded, and I get bored before most pages load. So what are you going to do about it? Huh?

    I'll tell you what you can do. Make me care. Compel me to care. Don't leave me any choice in the matter. You've got ten seconds.

    Why should you care whether I care?

    Well this gets down to the nub of it, doesn't it? You're designing or getting designed webpages and putting them on the world-wide-web. Why? If I go to your page and leave before I've read ten words, then I'll never know what it is that matters to you. Is that what you want?

    So how do you get me to stay?

    Ahhh. Now we're getting down to the important things.

    Remember that I'm the most important person in my world. I may be curious, or I may not. I may already know about your subject matter, or I may not. You don't know what mental state I might be in. So assume the worst and start from there.

    That's why openings are important. Don't waste time, don't waste pages, don't waste bandwidth. Don't let any distractions take my attention away. Your opening page is a contract with me; it's your promise of what you're going to deliver. So get to the point. Give me a hook that I can't resist. And make it quick.

    Ten seconds? Are you serious?

    You'd better believe I'm serious. After ten seconds, human beings lose focus on whatever they were paying attention to. They may consciously be more forgiving of net-lag, but the basic mechanisms of the mind don't work that way.

    What can you do in ten seconds? More than you'd think, actually. You don't have to deliver everything, but your page had better be usable within ten seconds. Ten seconds is still only ten seconds; for an average reader, for instance, that's enough time to read perhaps 40 words.

    Forty words is a good opening, and remember what I said about openings: They are your contract with your reader. This is true for your site, it is true for each page, and it is true for the first glimpse of each page. Of course, you also have to deliver on your promise, but you don't have to accomplish that in ten seconds. Look at it this way: every link followed within your site represents a promise and delivery, followed by another promise. That's how you build trust, on the web or anywhere else. Once your reader trusts that you will deliver, you have a lot more freedom... as long as you continue to deliver.

    What kind of promises can you make? It will vary. Sometimes you promise an attitude: "This page will entertain you." Sometimes you promise content: "You want to know about this? Well, here it is." Sometimes you promise organization: "This will help you find what you're looking for."

    But ten seconds is still ten seconds. During that time, the reader's machine has to contact a web server, and that server has to send a page. If you've got graphics to load, that's another server connection, one per image. If you're using frames, that's at least two more server connections before anything interesting or useful even gets sent to the reader.

    This is one reason why text will always be crucial to good web pages. Text gets delivered with the first server connection. Text formats immediately, provided you've done the right thing by providing height and width for images, and kept your initial tables small. Text loading can't get turned off by net-weary users. Forty words. Ten seconds. Make your promise.

    That's not to denigrate the value of images or anything else; it's simply recognizing what's going to show up first. Do you need images to make your point? Don't neglect text, whether it's captions, alt text for images, a quick index, or a short, pithy comment. Text - or the lack of it - is the first thing your reader will see.

    By the way, this is what usability engineering is about. It's understanding what works for people, and making sure that you meet those needs. It's about using those ten seconds wisely, which requires good planning, good design, and good execution. And you've only got ten seconds because of the net; on your local machine, when you're designing, make it immediate - although you really can't assess net-lag effects without the net.

    Am I setting a high standard?

    Yes, but why not? I'm a reader too, especially when it comes to your pages. And you want me to like your pages, don't you?

    This is why I compare a web site to a harsh mistress. You've got to be aware of the effect of everything you do, not on how you perceive your pages, but on how your readers may perceive them. You have to be constantly aware of the cycle of promise, fulfill, promise. You have to be alert for flaws in your concepts, your design, your implementation, your understanding of your readers. When you find flaws, you fix them, because part of your reputation rides on your responsiveness, and even on your foresight, because the most important reader is always the next one, not the one before.

    You've got to be aware of these issues at every level, from the cognitive to the subconscious. You've made a promise, and fulfilled. Where's the next promise? It had better be right there; don't make the reader look for it. Site navigation has to be invisible until it's needed, then suddenly blatantly obvious.

    You've got to remember that human beings are pattern-making animals. We'll make a pattern out of cues from the environment, whether there's a pattern behind them or not. So make sure that everything on your site and on your pages matters. Understand the patterns you want to create, and throw out anything that isn't part of that pattern, no matter how much you may care about it for its own sake. What matters is the patterns that your readers perceive, and understand now and forever that those patterns are a product of your presentation and their expectations. People always come with preconceived notions, and that's your starting point - even if you have no idea what those notions might be.

    What's in it for me?

    Here's one reader expectation that you don't have to guess about. People don't come to your web site, or stay at your web site, because your site is important to you. They come for what they can get out of your site. If they ever pause to ask, even for a split-second, what's in it for me? when it comes time to follow a link, or to wait for a page to load, or to scroll down a page, you've lost them.

    There are three fundamentals you can count on.

    • People don't like to read.
    • People don't like to scroll.
    • People don't like to wait for graphics to load.
    This is not to say that people won't do these things; it's just that every time you ask them to, you are cashing in on their tolerance. Think of these as inertia. People have to have reasons to do these things, and the reasons have to be their reasons. It's up to you to overcome their inertia.

    People will give you a little bit of tolerance when they first come to your site, but from that point on, you're on your own. Think of it like a bank account. Every time you make a promise and fulfill it, you increase the tolerance in that account. Every time you make your reader wait, you lose some tolerance. Every time your reader sees an error on your site, you lose a lot of tolerance. Every time your reader has to search to find what they want, the longer they search, the more trouble you're in. If that tolerance ever goes to zero, that reader is gone... and will never come back.

    The only way you can keep things going is to keep satisfying that reader. Not once, but every time the reader expects it. Every time you promise it. The way you fulfill your promises to the reader is the way you sell your reader on staying to see more.

    So let's talk

    Think of your web site as one side of a conversation.

    It's not as one-sided a concept as it sounds. Sometimes when people talk, one person does have something to say, something that needs to continue until it's all said. What does the other person do during this time? Lots of things, from nodding to eye contact to small vocalizations ("um, hm") to the occasional question. As the person talking, you are aware of these things; as long as they continue, you know you still have that person's attention. When they stop, you've lost them.

    The web works on much the same model; you have a web site that has something to say. The reader acknowledges continued interest by responding with scrolling, waiting, following links, and most of all, reading and thinking. As long as you can hold their interest, they'll keep coming back for more.

    It's just a different way of looking at the same set of issues.

    Isn't this a lot of work?

    Yes, it is. I've been doing it for a while myself, and it's still a lot of work. But it's been worth it; all things considered, I think I've gotten out of it the things that I wanted to get.

    That's really what matters, knowing that you've entertained someone, or informed them, or whatever your purpose might be. Not assuming, but knowing.

    That's what makes it worthwhile to keep such a demanding mistress as a website.

    Should you use Twitter for your business?

    Yes if you know how. No if you don’t.
    Twitter is a short message service for the web. Its like a small broadcasting station on the web that allows you to publish small messages that could make a lot of sense, but are usually garbled by strange symbols and odd collections of letters, numbers, dashes and slashes. However, used in its simplest form – as a short messaging service – it can be a powerful marketing tool. I am assuming here that you at least have created a twitter account and know how to send out an occasional message.

    So what do you do need to use it for business?

    1. Having something unique to say.

      As a business most likely you do have something unique to say. Even though you may not be in a unique business, for those who listen to you, you may be the only person they know in your business. So what you have to say is most likely something that they are not likely to hear from anyone else – or atleast from very few others.

    2. Say something that is useful to people listening to you.

      Sure you can use Twitter to let people know what you are doing and how great your new store is. But if that’s the only thing you have to say and you don’t have something of value to your listener, why should they listen to you?

    3. Make sure you say it regularly.

      Like any good branding effort, consistency and routine work in Twitter as well. Identify a schedule for your messages and stick to it. If your users can expect to hear from you with a certain regularity, they begin to trust that you are there for keeps and not just a flash in the pan.

    4. Link your messages back to your services or business.

      This is a tricky one. Obviously you are going to be tweeting about your business – so what does linking it back mean? Well, try to match every blog post, tweet or forum post to a service offering that we have. That way we can establish interest in a particular service and know whom to approach to make our offers to.

    5. Have content to back up your tweets.

      Make sure that you have content on your website or some other source that can expand on what you tweet about. A tweet is only 140 characters. Just not enough to get a full idea across. At best it’s a reminder to your followers that you have something to say. It’s the content that ultimately matters.
    If you can do the above five things, you can work out an effective Twitter strategy.

    Some Management Fundas

    Once it was called ‘work satisfaction’, then ‘commitment’ and now ‘engagement’. Its opposite is ‘alienation’, estranged, from all that happens in the workplace.

    All managers want their staff to be fully committed to the aims of the organisation, happy in their work and totally engaged in what they are doing.

    So how to achieve engagement? Indeed, is it even possible to engage people doing unskilled, dreary, repetitive work? And is engagement an end in itself, or does it lead to other desirable outcomes such as productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer satisfaction?

    The research in this area shows pretty consistent findings. The results are neither surprising nor counterintuitive. And they have been known for ages. So why is it that supervisors and managers do not perform their duties so as to maximize the commitment and engagement of their staff?

    There are some fairly basic but important things a manager needs to do to maximise engagement.
    1. Let every person know what is expected of them in terms of their processes and products. Be clear. Check understandings. And revisit expectations as they change. All people have hopes and expectations about promotion, about change, about what their organisation should be doing for them (and they for the organisation). These expectations need to be managed.

    2. Give people the tools for the job. Keep them up to date. Train them how to use these tools. Make sure that processes are well thought through so that the technology people use is appropriate for what they are required to do. In short, give technical and informational support.

    3. Give reports and opportunities to learn and shine at what they are good at. People like to celebrate their skills, abilities and unique gifts. Help them find and explore them. Let them do their best all the time. And encourage development of strengths.

    4. Be generous but targeted in praise. Recognise effort and success. Recognise individuals and how they strive to achieve. Celebrate success. Notice and praise individuals when they have put in extra effort. And do it openly, naturally and regularly.

    5. Listen to your employees. They often have very good innovative ideas. Yes, they can and do complain but listen to that too. They need to believe their ideas count, their voice is heard, they can contribute to how the work is arranged.

    6. Help them believe in the purpose or product of the organisation. People need to feel their job is important; that they really are making a contribution to society. This involves more than writing fancy mission statements. It’s about giving the job a sense of meaning and purpose.

    7. Encourage friendship formation at work. This is more than insisting on teamwork. It is giving people space and time to build up a friendship network. Friends are a major source of social support. They make all the difference to the working day. And committed people commit their friends.

    8. Talk to people about their progress. Give them a chance to let off steam; to dream about what might be; to have quality time with you. This is more than those detailed, often rather forced appraisals. It is about opportunity for the boss to focus on the hopes, aspirations and plans of the individual.
    Pretty obvious stuff. Be clear about what you want. That is, define the outcomes required for individuals which will strength and challenge them. Focus on what they do well: their strengths, gifts and talents. Try to find the best individual and the best in the individual. Make them exemplars, heroes, models. Find the right fit between a person’s talents and ambitions and the tasks they need to do.

    Look for ambitious, achievement-oriented, energetic individuals. But steer their striving: manage their route-map. And look for, listen to and reward evidence of independent ideas and thinking. Never assume management has a monopoly on the truth. Also encourage camaraderie: help people who are social animals relate to each other and pull together.

    Do all of the above and you have an engaged workforce. And we do know that happy, healthy, staff treat customers better. It’s a relatively simply causal link. It pays to focus on staff engagement. But it’s also the fundamental task of all management.

    Your SME Network Looking Like An ATM?

    An ATM that you get money out of should be as secure as a bank vault, but just like that ATM has to be filled up everyday by someone - your network can become vulnerable from someone on the inside or outside of the network.

    Systems used to be like ATM's - you give the right code and the ATM gave you the cash, then hackers got to them and the security had to be strengthened to the point where hackers now needed an inside man. Guess what, the inside man came in the the form of email phishing scams targeting unknowing consumers to give up the code and then out comes the cash.

    Then to give regular firewalls a real workout are blended threats - viruses, worms, trojans, root kits, and other hacks. Running a successful business adds to your responsibilities - more employees, larger networks, larger databases, and possible teleworker VPN options - definitely a job for an appliance that can handle blended threats.

    The sights are now on us...

    Let's look first at the changes in the SME network security environment and how blended threats have started to trickle down to us little guys. Multinational and large enterprise networks have always fought blended threats - spyware prevention, root kit attacks, spam blocking, intrusion prevention and URL filtering are what the big boys IT departments are using on a daily basis at the gateway to the Internet. Most of the time the IT guy is able to hold back the unknown threats with layered security - yes I said unknown threats. Each one of the threats we know about today became infamous once the damage was done or the attack was blocked to a degree where the loss was not significant. These threats began as unknowns.

    And that's the good news, when the big boys trigger technological innovations, the little people always get a taste. The difference is that when an unknown threat attacks our firewall, hopefully we all have some form of security - right, the damages and loss can be catastrophic. But all businesses in the small and medium environments can't have a separate IT department that handles security, storage, compliance and the money to handle downtime due to lost productivity and data. All businesses of any size are looking for ways to effectively prevent attacks right at the perimeter before it reaches the desktop.

    Prevent Your SME Network From Looking Like an ATM

    Blended threats have met their match when it comes to Unified Threat Management (UTM) devices, our much larger brethren were tired of buying a new security solution every time a new threat popped up it's ugly head threatening the network. Their budgets may look unlimited but the bean counters began complaining about the bleeding edge of security even if they could afford the attacks. Integrated security appliances help answer both IT and CFO's dreams by incorporating everything blended threats can throw at a network - blocking viruses, worms, spyware, trojans, and other attacks without relying on signatures. Signatures are needed based partly on the effectiveness of 'intelligent layered security' and host intrusion detection. Threats are met at the perimeter or rejected by layered security that intelligently adapts to threats before it hits the internal network. This is just a small unified threat management overview to touch upon how it acts as intrusion detection and intrusion prevention devices in one box.

    If you think your business is already secure enough and doesn't need a UTM, a combined intrusion detection and prevention appliance, then maybe when the unknown threats attack your network it will keep them away from the desktops in your office. I hope you can sleep well...because your network can never go to sleep.

    Time To Go Thin?

    Juicy Assets, Ripe For Picking...

    So here's an interesting spin on de-perimeterisation (removing the boundary between the internal network and the internet)... if people think we cannot achieve this and cannot wait for secure operating systems, protocols and environments but need to "secure" their environments today, I have a simple question supported by a simple equation for illustration:

    For the majority of mobile and internal users in a typical company who use the same basic set of applications:

    1. Assume a company that:...fits within the 90% of those who still inhouse servers and isn't completely outsourced and supports a users who use Microsoft OS and the usual suspect applications on fat clients and laptops.

    2. Take the following:
      Data Breaches. Lost Laptops. Non-sanitized corporate hard drives on eBay. Malware. Non-compliant configurations. Patching woes. Device Failures. Remote Backup issues. Endpoint Security Software Sprawl. Skyrocketing security/compliance costs. Lost Customer Confidence. Fines. Lost Revenue. Reduced budget.

    3. Combine With:
      Cheap Bandwidth. Lots of types of bandwidth/access modalities. Centralized Applications and Data. Any Web-enabled Computing Platform. SSL VPN. Virtualization. Centralized Encryption. Lots of choices to provide thin-client/streaming desktop capability. Offline-capable Web Apps.

    4. Shake Well, Re-allocate Funding, Streamline Operations and "Security"...

    5. And, Ta Da, You Get...:
      Less Risk. Less Cost. Better Control Over Data. More "Secure" Operations. Better Resilience. Assurance of Information. Simplified Operations. Easier Backup. One Version of the Truth (data.)

    Why? Can Someone Tell Me Why?

    I really just don't get it why we continue to deploy and are support platforms we can't protect, allow our data to inhabit islands we can't control and at the same time admit the inevitability of disaster while continuing to spend our money on solutions that can't possibly solve the problems.

    Until the operating systems are more secure, the data can self-protect and networks to "self-defend," why do we continue to focus on the fat client PCs which are a waste of time.

    If we can isolate and reduce the number of ways of access to data and use dumb platforms to do it, why aren't we?

    ...I mean besides the fact that an entire industry has been leeching off this mess for decades...

    I'll Gladly Pay You For Solution Today...

    The technology exists TODAY to centralize our most important assets and allow our workforce to accomplish their goals and business to function better without the need for data to actually "leave" the servers in whose security we have already invested so much money.

    Many people are doing that with their servers already with the adoption of virtualization. Now they need to do with their clients.

    The only reason we're now going absolutely stupid and spending money on securing endpoints in their current state is because we're CAUSING not just allowing data to leave our enclaves. In fact with all this BlaBla 2.0 hype, we've convinced ourselves that we must. Utter Hogwash.

    Relax, Keep Your Firewalls On...

    In the case of centralized computing and streamed desktops to dumb/thin clients, the security perimeter still includes our servers and security castles, but also encapsulates a streamed, virtualized, encrypted, and authenticated thin-client session bubble. Instead of worrying about the endpoint, that's nothing more than a flickering display with a keyboard/mouse.

    Let your kid use Limewire. Let Uncle Bob surf www. Let wifey download spyware. If my data and applications don't live on the machine and all the clicks/mouseys are just screen updates, what do I care?

    Yup, you can still use a screen scraper or a camera phone to use data inappropriately, but this is where balancing risk comes into play. Let's keep the discussion within the 80% of reasonable factored arguments. We'll never eliminate 100% and we don't have to in order to be successful.

    Sure, there are exceptions and corner cases where data does need to leave our embrace, but we can eliminate an entire class of problem if we take advantage of what we have today and stop this endpoint madness.

    This goes for internal corporate users who are chained to their desks and not just mobile users. Oh, and did I forget to mention the hugely reduced cost of ownership...

    What's preventing you from doing this today?

    Simple But Effective Search Engine Optimization

    Most web designers see search-engine optimization (SEO) as a dirty trick, and with good reason. Most search engine optimizers pollute search engine results with spam, making it harder to find relevant content when searching. But there is more than one type of search-engine optimization. In common usage, a black-hat SEO seeks to achieve high rankings in search engines by any means possible, whereas a white-hat SEO seeks to code web pages in a way that is friendly to search engines.

    By using XHTML and CSS for an effective search-engine optimization, many web design best practices overlap with those of a white-hat SEO. The reason is simple: such practices as separating style from content, minimizing obtrusive JavaScript, and streamlining code allow search engines to more easily spider, index, and rank web pages. In addition, high accessibility in web design overlaps heavily with effective white hat search-engine optimization.

    Accessibility for search engines

    On further reflection, this overlap makes sense. The goal of accessibility is to make web content accessible to as many people as possible. We can think of search engines as users with substantial constraints - they can’t read text in images, can’t interpret JavaScript or applets, and can’t view many other kinds of multimedia content. These are the types of problems that accessibility is supposed to solve in the first place.

    A few checkpoints for accessibility

    Having seen why high accessibility overlaps with effective search-engine optimization, let's see how it does so. Let's touch upon each Priority 1 checkpoint in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which affects search-engine optimization.

    1.1 Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element (e.g., via “alt”, “longdesc”, or in element content)...

    Not only are search engines unable to understand image and movie files, they also cannot interpret any textual content that is based on vision. alt and longdesc attributes therefore help them understand the subject of any such content.

    Search engines are also deaf in reference to audio files. Again, providing textual descriptions to these files allows search engines to better interpret and rank the content that they cannot hear.

    1.2 Provide redundant text links for each active region of a server-side image map.

    Text links are very important to search engines, since anchor text labels the content of a link’s target page. In fact, many search engine optimizers consider anchor text to be the single most important factor in modern search algorithms. If a website uses an image map rather than a text-based menu as the primary navigational method, a redundant text-only menu elsewhere on the page will give search engines additional information about the content of each target page.

    4.1 Clearly identify changes in the natural language of a document’s text and any text equivalents (e.g., captions).

    Major search engines maintain country and language-specific indexes. Specifying the language of a document or of text within a document, helps search engines decide in which indexes to place it.

    6.3 Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported [...]

    Some users choose to disable JavaScript and applets in their browser’s preferences, while other users’ browsers do not support these technologies at all. Likewise, search engines’ browsers do not read scripts; therefore a webpage’s usability should not be crippled when scripts are not supported. Otherwise, search engines may not even index the page, let alone rank it well.

    14.1 Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site’s content.

    It is a bit less obvious how this particular checkpoint aids search-engine optimization. If a website contains the clearest and simplest language appropriate for the site’s content, it is probably using those keywords with which potential searchers will be most familiar. Searchers tend to use succinct queries containing familiar language. Thus, to receive maximum traffic from search engines, it is best that a website contain the same words which the site’s audience will use when searching.

    The benefits do not end with Priority 1 — many of the Priority 2 and 3 Checkpoints are important for search-engine optimization purposes, too. For instance, Checkpoints 6.2 and 6.5 refer to the accessibility of dynamic content. In fact, making dynamic content search engine-friendly is one of the most daunting tasks a search engine optimizer faces when working on an eCommerce or a database-driven site. Following the W3C’s recommendations can help to avoid any indexing or ranking problems related to using dynamic content.

    From the horse’s mouth

    If you doubt any of the above, perhaps a visit to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines could convince you that Google rewards high accessibility. This page specifically mentions best practices which will help Google “find, index, and rank your site.”

    • Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
    • Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages.
    • Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
    • Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
    • Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in images.
    • Make sure that your title and alt tags are descriptive and accurate. [...]
    • Use a text browser such as Lynx to examine your site, because most search engine spiders see your site much as Lynx would. If fancy features such as JavaScript, cookies, session IDs, frames, DHTML, or Flash keep you from seeing all of your site in a text browser, then search engine spiders may have trouble crawling your site. 

    Note that each of Google’s guidelines actually correlates with a W3C Web Content Accessibility Guideline. Oddly enough, the word “accessibility” does not actually appear in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Perhaps they are afraid of scaring off some webmasters with technical jargon? In any case, it is clear that Google is lobbying for high accessibility.

    Another feather in accessibility’s cap

    The checkpoints highlighted above are just a few of the many ways that high accessibility helps optimize a website for search engines — many of the other checkpoints in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are helpful for search-engine optimization as well. If accessibility gets a website more traffic from Google, even better!

    The good news is that a web designer who follows best practices for accessibility is already practicing solid white hat search-engine optimization. Search engines need not scare anyone. When in doubt, design your site to be accessible to blind and deaf users as well as those who view websites via text-only browsers, and search-engine optimization will fall into place automatically.

    Why It Fails?

    When organizations go online, they have to decide which e-business models best suit their goals. A business model is defined as the organization of product, service and information flows, and the source of revenues and benefits for suppliers and customers.

    Automation is uniquely difficult because its complexity extends beyond your company's walls. Your people will need to change the way they work and so will the people from each supplier/distributor/customer. Only the largest and most powerful manufacturers can force such radical changes down their throats. Most companies have to sell outsiders on the system. Moreover, your goals in installing the system may be threatening to them, to say the least.

    • Internal Resistance to Change
    • External Resistance to Change
    • Many Mistakes at First
    • Historical and Accurate Data
    • Skilled Manpower
    • Continuous Training and Upgradation
    • Planning and Implementation
    • Management Support

    Resistance to change: Operations people are accustomed to dealing with phone calls, faxes and hunches scrawled on paper, and will most likely want to keep it that way. If you can't convince people that using the software will be worth their time, they will easily find ways to work around it. You cannot disconnect the telephones and fax machines just because you have a software in place.

    Many mistakes at first: There is a diabolical twist to the quest for software/automation acceptance among your employees. New systems process data as they are programmed to do, but the technology cannot absorb a company's history and processes in the first few months after an implementation. Forecasters and planners need to understand that the first bits of information they get from a system might need some tweaking. If they are not warned about the system's initial naiveté, they will think it is useless.

    In one case, just before a large automotive industry supplier installed a new supply chain forecasting application to predict demand for a product, an automaker put in an order for an unusually large number of units. The system responded by predicting huge demand for the product based largely on one unusual order. Blindly following the system's numbers could have led to inaccurate orders for materials being sent to suppliers within the chain. The company caught the problem but only after a demand forecaster threw out the system's numbers and used his own.

    That created another problem: Forecasters stopped trusting the system and worked strictly with their own data. The supplier had to fine-tune the system itself, then work on reestablishing employees' confidence. Once employees understood that they would be merging their expertise with the system's increasing accuracy, they began to accept and use the new technology.

    Historical and Accurate Data: Computers work on the GIGO principle – Garbage In Garbage Out. Any computer system is only as good as the data/information that it is feed. Inaccurate data or not enough data both are one of the invisible causes of failure of information systems.

    Does your website persuade your customers?

    A common mistake that people make while designing their website is not deciding the goal or objective of the website clearly and upfront. Most people consider their website to be an online version of their brochure. What they forget is that the web is an active and interactive medium and not a static medium.

    The important difference to keep in mind is that a website is an interactive medium while a brochure is not. There is a huge potential to engage the customer in myriad ways and actually persuade the customer to do something useful. People are intrinsically curious and like to interact. A website is a great way to create this engagement with the customer. However, if you do not define what the result of the engagement has to be; you could lose out on the engagement created by the interactivity on your site.

    So what can you do to improve the architecture of your website? This has nothing to do with graphic design or look and feel but to do with what you want the website to do and how to do it. Here’s how you can go about deciding this:

    1. Define the precise action you want your customer to complete on your site.

    In retail websites, it is to buy something on your site. In B2B sites, it is to generate an interest to do business with you or to request for more information. This is called a website goal. The end result is the completion of the goal; for example a filled form indicates a level of interest that the visitor has in your services. You can then this follow up with your sales efforts to convert this interest to an actual sale.

    2. Identify the incentive or persuasion factor that will motivate the visitor to complete this action.

    This could be something like a freebie that you might be willing to give away. For B2B sites, whitepapers, downloads, industry information sheets all serve as excellent incentives and also serve to establish your credibility as a trusted provider. For retail websites, discounts, timed offers, limited stocks and other such persuasion tactics help motivate specific action.

    3. Allow the designer to build these into the design.

    The designer then has to use these elements to create a persuasive design that compels visitors to execute the action that you have defined. This form of design is broadly called PET (Persuasion Emotion Trust) design that focuses on the usable and persuasive website design. The designer has to use proven techniques, within the ambit of your business objectives, to give you a design that funnels people into action zones within your home page.

    When you design in this manner, you get a website that actually works rather than a website that simply sits around waiting for someone to do something. So take a look at your website and figure out whether it persuades people to take any kind of action.

    Fighting the new face of cyber-crime

    Cyber-crime has become more sophisticated, but there are ways to harden your company's defenses. Businesses are being confronted by a new breed of profit-hungry cyber criminals, focused on accessing confidential data and intellectual property for financial gain. Cyber-crime is no longer an issue of showmanship, perpetrated by hackers keen to disrupt information systems. It has become a serious business and today's cyber-criminals have become exceedingly efficient in their plans to access and exploit business critical information.

    More feared than terrorism

    The recent Hydraq attacks highlight the targeted nature of today's threats, designed specifically to steal confidential information. According to a recent report into worldwide cyber-crime trends, 60% of identities exposed in 2009 were compromised by hacking attacks. In addition, according to a broad study of large organisations, 90% of Australian and New Zealand enterprises have fallen victim to cyber attacks in the last year.

    Enterprises are very aware of the risks of cyber-crime with 43% of Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) organisations rating it as their top business concern. This threat was ranked higher than natural disasters, terrorism and traditional crime combined.

    Protecting business critical information from cyber-criminals is complicated due to a number of factors. Firstly, the pace of information growth is accelerating, IT infrastructures are expanding and new computing platforms are being adopted. At the same time, the workforce is becoming more mobile. Employees are accessing and sharing company information at home and on the road, leaving companies more vulnerable to the risk of data loss. It is clear that, in this environment, security professionals have more to manage than ever before.

    A simple three-point plan

    To protect themselves effectively, businesses now require a focus on security continuity that allows them to continuously respond to internal and external changes.

    First, businesses need to take a risk-based and policy-driven approach to security. Information growth continues to expand exponentially. It would be too costly and inefficient to try and secure everything, so businesses should focus on their critical data and assets only. Today's attacks by cyber-criminals and insiders alike often take advantage of weak IT policies that expose information. Companies need more comprehensive and effective policies to control who and what has access to information and infrastructure.

    Second, companies should take an information-centric approach to security. Businesses need to know where their important information assets are and who has access to them. And if a company doesn't have a good handle on where their important information is, then they are at risk. It is not only important to know where your information is; you must also make sure that the right things happen as that information flows both within the company, and to and from the company.

    Finally, companies need to operationalize their infrastructure management through standardization, workflow and automation. A well-managed infrastructure will ultimately result in a better-protected infrastructure and a safer online working environment.

    Protecting key vulnerabilities

    Research has shown that cyber-criminals are targeting four key areas of weakness that are putting business environments at risk: poorly-enforced IT policies, poorly-protected information, poorly-managed systems, and poorly-protected infrastructure.

    So how can businesses manage the four key areas of weakness and focus on protection that matters? The following tips provide a good starting point.

    • Develop and enforce IT policies, and automate risk management and compliance processes. By prioritising risks and defining policies that span across every location, businesses can enforce policies through built-in automation and workflow, and not only identify threats but re-mediate incidents as they occur or anticipate them before they even happen.
    • Protect information proactively by taking an information-centric approach to protect both information and interactions. It's not enough to know where the information resides - you need to know how it moves and who has access to it so you can protect it. Taking a content-aware approach to protecting your information is key in knowing where your sensitive information resides, who has access, and how it is coming in or leaving your company.

    • Manage systems efficiently. Systems management needs to make an organisation's life easier through standardization, workflow and automation. These are things that can be put in place to make security software do the heavy-lifting on everything from patch management to regulatory audits.

    • Protect the infrastructure and respond to threats rapidly. Companies need visibility into their systems so they can manage them properly and ultimately protect against emerging threats.

    As the latest report into worldwide cyber-crime trends amply demonstrates, the threat landscape continued to evolve in 2009, with significant growth in both the volume and sophistication of cyber crime attacks targeted at enterprises. The good news is that targeted attacks can be defeated. By taking precautions against the four areas of weakness, organisations can significantly bolster their defences against targeted attacks and defeat the new face of cybercrime.